A restive crown of several dozen residents of Norton’s upscale rallied to try to protect what they say is both their way of life and their property values Thursday.
They protested both the application of a nearby pizzeria for a beer and wine license, and a proposal for a 230-unit affordable apartment complex tentatively planned for adjacent property along East Main Street.
In a rare lengthy session at the town library, residents said they were only a small sampling of a much larger group who opposed both propositions.
A petition had been circulated that had already gathered 90 signatures against the beer and wine license sought by the owner of within the Red Mill Plaza, and an investigative group had been formed to research how to oppose the “smart growth” complex planned for the 15 acre parcel next door, to be permitted under the state’s controversial Chapter 40 B affordable housing regulations.
Selectmen eventually granted the beer and wine license to Joseph Moura, saying the protests of the residents, while certainly allowed as part of the application process, don't necessarily trump the law that allows such licenses within the commercial zone where the small restaurant is located.
“I respect the fact that 91 people signed a petition,” said board member Robert Kimball. “I also respect the fact that he put money into his business. We have to take a look at the whole picture – we can’t say no because 91 people say no.”
Kimball pointed out that the applicant had every right to appeal to the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission if he were denied, an action that would surely result in the granting of the license regardless of local opposition.
“This is not a hangout place,” said Moura, who has conducted business successfully at the location for several months. “If a couple comes in, they can have a glass of wine. We did a nice job – it was vacant. We are proud of what we put there.
“If you got refused every time anyone opposed anything, nothing would ever get built,” Moura said.
Selectmen voted to grant the license, saying the town was trying to be a business-friendly community, but said the liquor had to be confined to the 14-seat restaurant building.
For now, the pizzeria will close at 9 p.m. during most of the week, but will be open till 11 p.m. weekend nights. The board reserves the right to pull the license early if they determine it is resulting in violations, or refuse to renew it in December, when it will come up for review.
The apartment complex has yet to begin what will certainly be a complex permitting process, but applicants will appear before the planning board after Labor Day, and have already met with the conservation commission and the zoning board. Developers Thorndike Development and Campanelli are already well known in town – Thorndike developed Red Mill Village and Great Brook opposite Roche Brothers, and Campanelli owns the 93 acres of commercial property in front of the on Route 140.
Lloyd Geisinger of Thorndike and Steve Murphy of Campanelli briefly described the design of the 230-unit project, saying the facades of the buildings will be faced outward toward the surrounding community, and will incorporate street trees and sidewalks along East Main Street, creating a look that will integrate well with the New England surroundings.
Again, opposition by neighbors will add information to the upcoming hearings, but under the state law, a Chapter 40 B project, once allowed to go forward by the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, can overstep local zoning regulations that govern things like setbacks, density, and certain development standards that might render other kinds of projects unbuildable on similar property.
Geisinger said the developers have sought out community input from Red Mill already, and will continue to work with the resident association as permitting continues.
Under the law, they will be seeking a single Comprehensive Permit from the zoning board, probably in October, and will need an order of conditions from the conservation commission. They will also need to comply with all pertinent safety regulations.
Selectwoman Mary Steele told the developers Norton hasn't had a great track record with 40 B developments.
“They scare me,” she said. “They drain public safety and the school system. Why will this be good for Norton and the neighborhood?
"It’s a tough location – we will want to hear a lot of good things.”
Kimball pointed out the town may have more pull than usual because of the adjacent White family cemetery belonging to the town. He also said the detention basins in the project can be seen from some of the Red Mill homes, not the ideal view.
He noted three 40 B projects are still in the wings, waiting to be developed – Turtle Crossing on Newland Street, Strawberry Fields on South Worcester, and Bay Road Heights on Bay Road, and said the delays in the process have caused the units permitted within those projects to be omitted from calculations that determine the percentage of affordable units in Norton.
In order to be able to deny a 40 B, the law stipulates communities in the state must have 10 percent or more. So despite all the units waiting, the town still lags behind.
Kimball said apartments are somewhat more desirable than condominium units or freestanding homes.
Geisinger said the developers had decided on apartments because of the numbers of young families who can't afford to purchase homes in this economy. The 230 units will be 60-percent two bedroom units, and 40-percent one bedroom.
The project, still unnamed, will have its own website up for viewing in the fall.